Canada likely to keep troops in Afghanistan until 2011

February 23rd, 2008 - 11:32 am ICT by admin  

Montreal, Feb 23 (DPA) Canadian troops would remain in Afghanistan until 2011 under a proposal made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority conservative government. But the proposal, which has bipartisan support, would call for Canadian troops to refocus their role from combat to training the fledging Afghan security forces and reconstruction. Harper made the proposal Thursday night at a public defence-related event.

The proposal and its likelihood of success diminishes the possibility that Harper’s government might fall over the Afghanistan troop issue.

The government still faces a rough patch over passage of the budget, but the troop proposal shows that the Liberals and Conservatives have found enough common ground to keep the country’s 2,500 troops in Afghanistan no matter who makes up Canada’s next government.

Harper’s proposal of a specific withdrawal date was a compromise overture to the Liberals, as was the proposal to refocus the Canadian involvement in Afghanistan towards more training and reconstruction.

The deployment of Canadian soldiers in the dangerous Afghan south is controversial in Canada. Since 2002, the strife has claimed the lives of 78 Canadian soldiers and one senior diplomat.

The opposition had demanded that the mission be ended next year, but Harper believed strongly that Canada should remain in Afghanistan as long as it takes to defeat the Taliban insurgency and secure the country.

The compromise proposal is set for a vote in March.

The US is frustrated by the unwillingness of NATO allies to send troops into hostile areas, and US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates has recently been making the case quite strongly over recent months.

Harper’s proposal to pull Canadian troops back from the front lines also reflects his own frustration with the lack of support from within NATO. Harper had declared earlier this year that Canadian soldiers would stay in the volatile Kandahar province only if NATO sends in reinforcements.

The US has 26,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, to be boosted to 30,000 in March, who along with British, Denmark, Dutch and Canadian troops carry the main brunt of fighting in Afghanistan.

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